Jeff Jardine

A sign of the times? Campaign is MIA in Modesto yards compared to past elections

If you drive east on Roseburg Avenue toward McHenry, you simply cannot miss it: Rob the Trump Fan’s political campaign display depicting Hillary Clinton in prison stripes and handcuffs.

Tacked to his wood fence, her photo rests atop the jail jumpsuit surrounded by “Hillary for Prison 2016” and “Trump/Make America Great Again” signs. Folks began posting about it on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.

“I’ve had at least 200 people stop and take photos of it,” said Rob, who told me he is 44, out of work and declined to give his last name. Others, he said, have torn off some of the pro-Trump signs, while a couple of goons pulled down his U.S. flag and stomped on it.

Next door, Thomas Haney’s yard bears a small, understated “Clinton/Kaine” sign. He put it up only after Rob the Trump Fan stuck a pro-Trump sign in his yard as well. Haney wasn’t having any of that.

“I had to look for a month to find one.” said Haney, who is 62 and works at Memorial Medical Center. “At first, I had it near the street. But I moved it back because somebody tried to take it. I moved it back here where it is visible on my (security) camera.”

Politics aside, they still get along.

“He’s not too stupid,” Rob joked about Haney. “I tried to talk to him about it, but he thinks (Trump) is a racist and doesn’t like (Trump) wanting to stop immigration.”

“We’re still friends,” Haney said. “He likes Trump, I like her (Clinton).”

That they have yard signs posted at all, competing or otherwise, makes them somewhat unique so far in this otherwise caustic, contentious and divisive presidential election campaign, from rallies to Facebook friends becoming political enemies.

During the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, Obama signs and bumper stickers were common. So were John McCain signs in 2008 and Mitt Romney signs in 2012.

Not this go-round – or not yet, anyway. I drove through Modesto neighborhoods for nearly two hours Thursday afternoon. It took a combination of keen eyes (OK, clean eyeglasses) and bird-dogging by friends who have them in their area to find any at all. They are few and far between. Where there are pro-Trump signs, someone across the street might indeed love their neighbor but hate their neighbor’s candidate, as anti-Trump/Pence signs along Newby Drive in north Modesto suggest.

Yards along Scenic Drive, which generally have plenty of signs during election cycles, had just one on Friday. It was for House candidate and Democrat Michael Eggman.

The most noticeable signs are the 4-x-8 footers in the farming areas alongside orchards and fields, and all promote Trump and other Republican candidates. You can see a Trump/Pence sign hanging about 40 feet above the ground from a boom at the corner of Albers and Milnes roads east of Modesto, where rancher John Brichetto grows almonds.

Why so few yard signs, though? Rob the Trump Fan and neighbor Haney agree on this theory: People are afraid or are tired of having their signs vandalized. Neighbors or others might get confrontational about the candidate they support. After all, some folks respect your First Amendment rights only when your opinion matches their own.

As for vandals, Rob said he actually saw the people who jumped out of their car, grabbed his flag and stomped on it before getting back into their car and speeding off.

“I chased ’em down the street,” he said. “But I don’t know what I would have done if I’d have caught them, though. Just yell at them, probably.”

He said one woman who walked by and saw the display told him, “I’ve got to hand it to you. You’re brave.” Yet a neighbor who he said has never been anything but friendly snubbed him completely and obviously while we were talking Thursday afternoon.

“She’s never done that before,” he said after saying hello and getting the stink-eye in return. “Ever.”

Haney said he thinks people are frustrated by the two major-party candidates and really don’t like either candidate. They choose one simply because he or she isn’t the other.

“I’m a Republican,” he said. “But I don’t care for Trump and I don’t agree on a lot of the things he’s doing.”

Shortly after the video showed Trump bragging about touching and kissing women became public last month, a couple of Trump signs in a neighborhood east of Oakdale disappeared.

Even so, Trump supporters, including Rob the Trump Fan, remain more demonstrative and have been from the get-go dating back to the primaries. Clinton supporters tend to be more reserved, said Patty Hughes, who heads Hillary for America’s Stanislaus County group and is deeply involved in the county’s Central Democratic Committee. Part of that, she said, is that fear of retribution through intimidation and vandalism.

“We’ve been selling Hillary signs like crazy,” she said. “We think people are holding onto them, waiting for Get Out The Vote weekend (next weekend). But so far the Democrats have been more reluctant to put signs out to show their support. They don’t want them vandalized.”

Instead, the ones being trashed and tagged are the larger signs for Trump and for Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, who is in a fight with Eggman to keep his seat in Congress.

Regardless, signs are intended to show support for a specific candidate or issue. Throughout this campaign they’ve been noticeable in their collective absence.

The one glaring exception is on Roseburg Avenue, where Rob the Trump Fan’s creation is becoming one of Modesto’s hottest tourist attractions.